Thursday, January 24, 2013

Review: Once

If any musical currently running on Broadway exemplifies the changing state of musical theatre, it is Once. That may seem like an unexpected statement to make about a musical based on a movie, but bear with me here, dear blog readers. 

I didn’t have high expectations for the musical adaptation of Once when it was first announced. I fell in love with the heartfelt indie film a few years ago after Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova won the Academy Award for Best Original Song in 2008. As much as I love the glitz of Broadway musicals, I was afraid that it would squash the authenticity of the story about a heartbroken Irish songwriter and the Czech immigrant who inspires him to keep his music alive. Then it won a Tony for Best Musical. Then my theatre-nerd friends wouldn’t stop raving about it. Then I looked up some clips on YouTube. And then I put tickets to the show on my Christmas wish list.

Once was everything I could have wished for in an adaptation of the film I love so much. It was true to the film's plot and kept the same slightly melancholy tone while energizing the musical numbers. The indie spirit of the film was hardly lost on the stage.

This was one of the first Broadway shows I’ve seen to use an interactive pre-show set up, which is something I’ve grown to love in smaller productions. The set is pretty minimalist, with a bar acting as a street corner in Dublin, a cramped apartment and a recording studio. That bar wasn’t just for show (no pun intended), as drinks were served onstage before the show. As it got closer to curtain, the actors gathered around the remaining bar patrons/audience members on stage and performed a few folk tunes. The actors accompanied themselves with violins, guitars, melodicas and upright basses and continued to do so into the show. This is a trend in musical theatre - seen in the recent revivals of Sweeney Todd and Company - that I’ve been loving as it gives musical theatre more of a folk music storytelling element to the stage, bringing usually glitzy Broadway productions down to Earth.

Steve Kazee, Cristina Milioti and the whole cast give some really great performances.  Many of them come from a “straight acting” background rather than the world of musical theatre and have been seen in more plays than musicals. This really shows, since they act the crap out of each scene they’re in. I see Once as more of a play with music than a musical, and this approach to casting the show really worked. 

All that being said, I think that Once will work better in a smaller setting. It is such an intimate musical and some of those quieter emotional moments can get lost in a 1,000+ seat house. The actors all do a great job, but some points tend to fall flat when you’re up in the nosebleeds.

Regardless, if you’re in Manhattan any time soon, check out Once.  It’s definitely one of the best shows I’ve seen in New York in a long time.

Once is currently running at the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre at 242 W. 45th St., New York, NY. Tickets start at $60. General Rush tickets are available in person at the box office for $34.50 Tuesday through Thursday and $39.50 Friday through Sunday (limit two per person). 

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